After an overnight flight I arrive at my hostel in Kuala Lumper in the early morning. Exhausted, I flop onto my bed, or more precisely, the springs of my bed. The pillow is the shape and consistency of a courgette and I can’t sleep as there are two Indian guys trying to out-MBA each other. One of them is now working for a company which, for a hefty fee, writes peoples PhD theses’ for them. Naughty!
Giving up on rest, I leave the hostel and plop straight into Chow Kit Wet Market. I don’t know why it is wet, but indeed it is. Dubious fluids violated my sandals as I wonder through a dense network of covered stalls selling plastic goods, clothes, meats, electric goods and children (not really). Fish stands had twitching plastic bags of fresh products.
Beyond the market is a residential area in the shadows of city skyscrapers. Weather worn wooden houses and utilitarian concrete blocks jar against a gleaming backdrop of glass and steel.
Feeling half zombie I stick myself on a bus to nowhere so I can see the city with less of this one foot after another business. Kuala Lumpur has occasional blobs of jungle and also calls itself ‘The Garden City’, but it hasn’t got a patch (or blob) on Bangalore. There are billboards commemorating the MH370 flight,
and at one point a huge paper mâché re-creation of the airplane outside a bar – quite the crowd puller.
Construction work is ubiquitous, including the foundations of the worlds first Harrod’s Hotel. In Chinatown there are lorry loads of ‘designer handbags’ being peddled to tourists. One guy slashed his price 75% but mindful that a Marc Jacobs handbag isn’t practical for backpacking, I walk away with a plastic Thomas the Tank Engine wallet instead. Disappointing for both of us.
Round the corner I find the Zoological Supplies, aka Pet Shop. Hot hamsters lie on their backs trying to cool off in the oppressive and humid heat of the city. Less fluffy scorpions and yellow frogs look just fine. I’m somewhere in the middle, remaining upright but with a sweaty sheen. A burst pipe on the street outside projects a cool mist which I possibly revel in for too long considering it could have been sewage.
Back on the bus I spy a couple of backpackers slumped over their bags, eyes rolled back in deep sleep. It looks like they might be using the air conditioned Hop On Hop Off Bus to rest and burn time before going to the airport. I smirk at their lack of resilience to fatigue and chastise the wasting of time to explore new territories. In my own half comatose state I smugly look out the window at the landmarks passing by. An hour later I’m jolted awake as the bus stops. Wiping the sleep induced dribble from my chin, I notice the backpackers have gone.
Heading home I notice some cars have big red labels in their windscreen declaring their status as McDonalds Drive-Through VIP. What does this get you?? Chicken in your chicken nuggets?
The next morning I get up early as a group of us (Stino, Edwin, Duffy and Joel) are heading to the F1 Grand Prix. In my haste to get ready, I manage to crack my iphone screen. Angry inside, I head into the loo for a number one. No loo paper, so I grab the hose to ‘go native’, taking aggressively on the tap in my frustration. I hadn’t noticed this connected to an overhead shower which instantly dumped a litre of water over me. Sat in my soggy clothes, I spend a few minutes digesting this traumatic start to the day.
Having experienced F1 in the flesh, I can confidently say I was more entertained on the bus home watching Steno play Connect 4 on his phone. I gather Lewis Hamilton won the race…yay!
That evening I am especially grateful I had changed into a female dorm room as the boys stay up late drinking on the street and carry a piss soaked homeless man into one of the beds.
We head out to Putrajaya, the planned administrative city of Malaysia. The residential areas form multiple Wisteria Lanes, buses jump red lights with priority over all traffic and the air smells good. Putra Mosque takes prime position at the waterside and next to the main square. A sign instructs that no menstruating women are to access the prayer hall. The sign just further ahead informs that the forecourt is a free wifi area. My brain fizzes as I try to consume such neandertholic and neoteric statements sat matter of factly side by side.
On the outskirts of the city are wetland areas where we hire bikes for 50p, promptly get lost, swim in an unfeasibly warm lake and get caught in a thunder storm. Back at base, soggy and having not eaten since breakfast we provide the taxi driver with simple instructions, “food please!” Over dinner Duffy compares fast food chains to Hitler and explains that my once in a blue moon purchase from Burger King is like killing a child. I’m confused by his logic and don’t engage in the debate as currently we are friends.
On my last day I queue for Petronas Tower tickets and meet Hulda, a Norwegian lady, on the 41st floor. We spend the rest of the day together at the Batu Caves (better outside than in) and Central market. We are disgusted with ourselves boshing MR50 on two frozen yogurts when a waitressing job is advertised for MR5 per hour.
Later, as I wait for the airport bus I am ushered to stand in 4 slightly different places by 4 slightly different men. None change my ability to see and then board said bus. But it was nice that they cared.
Kuala Lumpur reminded me of a shabby and more characterful Dubai. I enjoyed the street cats and lychee drinks. Less so, the street cat-sized rats and non lychee drinks.